Preventing water crises
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Preventing water crises

Lost treasure: are water shortages a global or a local problem?

24 years ago, the UN designated June 17th as World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. The importance and the relevance of the topic is marked by the fact that water shortage is one of the main themes of this year’s greatest event in diplomacy, the Budapest Water Summit 2019.

Today, the problem has become extremely pressing: according to latest news reports, hundreds of villages are being evacuated in central India due to heat waves and drought that impact at least eight million farmers. In the meantime, the spread of deserts is jeopardising the livelihood of over 1 billion people, including almost all of Europe’s Mediterranean countries, and according to estimates, up to 700 million people may be forced to leave their homes due to the lack of land suitable for agriculture by 2050.

According to Prof András Szöllősi-Nagy, Chair of the International Programme and Drafting Committee of the Budapest Water Summit 2019, still not many people are aware that the issue of water has become one of the highest priorities at the international level in the 21st century.

The UN designated June 17 the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought 24 years ago Photo: Shutterstock

How many types of drought are there?

The phenomenon most people simply know as drought is classified by specialists in six categories:

  • 1. Meteorological drought is the one we all recognise: periods with little precipitation. But the length of that period is important: it only counts as drought if the amount of precipitation remains below 60 percent of the maximum normal value for two years.
  • 2. Agricultural drought: this is when due to low or irregular precipitation, plants are unable to absorb sufficient amounts of water, causing significant damage to agriculture. Globally, over 75 percent of all land areas suffer soil deterioration today due to insufficient precipitation, and according to an estimate from the EU’s Joint Research Centre, the figure could increase to 90 percent by 2050.
  • 3. Atmospheric drought is the situation when due to the high, over 30 °C temperature and low vapour content of the air, evaporation is so fast that vegetation cannot increase it any more, even though there is still sufficient water in the soil.
  • 4. Physiological drought usually occurs in early spring, when, due to the low temperature of the soil, the roots of plants cannot absorb enough water.
  • 5. Hydrological drought occurs when the water levels or yields of rivers, springs, lakes, reservoirs, groundwater and aquifers are reduced significantly.
  • 6. Finally, socioeconomic drought happens when water shortages cause damage on a scale that threatens the economy of a region and the livelihood of its people.
While the general public simply refers to drought, specialists distinguish up to six different types of the phenomenon Photo: Shutterstock

Hundreds of Australian towns face water crisis

Up to 180 thousand people may be left without drinking water due to the severe drought.

Water shortage threatens the Panama Canal

Extreme drought is putting one of the world’s most important trade routes at risk.

Extremely low water levels on the River Maros

The characteristic sand banks of the river have grown larger, some branches have dried out completely.

Millions left without water in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s capital city, Harare, shut down its main water works on 23 September citing shortages of foreign currency to import chemicals required for water treatment. The situation may not only lead to a severe water shortage for the population, but also increases the risks of diseases carried by contaminated water, such as cholera.

European farming could suffer 16 percent loss by 2050 due to climate change

A comprehensive report by the European Environment Agency claims that over the next 30 years, agricultural yields could drop by up to 16 percent in Europe due to the phenomena accompanying climate change.

One of the driest and warmest summers in Germany

This year’s was the third hottest summer in Germany since the beginning of regular meteorological records in 1881, according to preliminary data from the Federal Meteorological Service.

Sad pictures of a lake that disappears in Chile

In 2011, Laguna de Aculeo, one of the country’s favourite bathing resorts, still covered 12 square kilometres, and the lake was 6 metres deep – but since then, it has completely dried out.

One billion tonnes of carbon dioxide released into the air in Africa

The problem of the water shortages caused by global warming is much more complex than we have thought. In some parts of Africa, people not only need to face thirst but also the fact that the regions impacted by drought emit a quantity of carbon dioxide equivalent to the emissions of two hundred million cars each year.

UN report: climate change could cause global famine

According to a new report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that focuses on the interaction between climate change, desertification and food security, if present land use habits are maintained, the planet’s capacity to produce food will drop drastically.

European Union aid for drought-stricken Africa

The EU is contributing a further 50 million euro to alleviate drought damage in a number of Eastern and Central African countries. According to estimates, more than 4 million children and about 3 million pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers are undernourished in the region.